Monday, May 16, 2011

CBR III Review 8 - The Blue Sword

Hi all! So this review is kinda of cheating. The Blue Sword was one of my favorite books in middle school and my love for it continues to this day. I usually bust it out and read it when I'm in the mood for a really good entrancing read (sometimes just to remind myself that I still love reading) Normally I wouldn't count this for CBR but 1. I'm really behind and 2. I had read a romance novel, and then promptly sold it at the used bookstore to get more money for books. Normally that would be fine except I can't remember the name of it or what it was about. And I'd rather review this one anyway.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is about a teenage girl named Harry Crewe whose father dies. Her older brother lives in the Royal Province of Daria where he is in the military. We pick up the action as she is adjusting to life on the outskirts of the Empire. Her home country is called The Homeland and they're basically a British knockoff, Britain circa 1820. Anyway, Harry is restless and she can't really place her finger on why. She really likes living in Daria and she is meeting interesting people but she still feels constrained. For the past 20 years the Homelanders have been trying to stretch their boundaries to the mountains and beyond. The want to conquer the old kingdom that is still in control of much of the wilderness. The old kingdom is Damar and their King is Corlath and he sort of just shows up all of a sudden at the embassy. Which also happens to be where Harry is staying. Damar is north of the lands that the Homeland has conquered, and to the north are these evil northern guys who are described as demon-ish. Like they're part demon.
Anyway, Corlath shows up at the embassy to get aid in fending off the northern hordes, it doesn't really work and he storms off. He almost runs over Harry who has just come back from riding her pony. Corlath leaves all angry but his kelar keeps bringing up the image of Harry. Kelar is the magic in the book and usually people in the royal family have it. It's very unstable. Typically the user can't control it very well. Most of the time it comes on like a battle fever when the user is fighting or even just angry. Corlath has to avoid looking at people in the eyes when he's angry because it gives the other person headaches and just kinda messes with you.
Corlath's kelar keeps telling him to go back and get Harry. Which he does, sort of against his will and the advice of his advisors. He goes back and gets Harry. She wakes up three nights later on the back of the King's horse, and is very confused. She is taken to the King's camp and treated as a guest of honor. From there things take a stranger turn because Harry is given Meeldtar, the water of life. Which gives visions, she see's a vision of herself as a warrior standing on a horse. She even sees visions of Aerin who is a queen of the past and considered Damar's greatest ruler. Basically it's hero's journey, and this is the part where whe learns she is special and there is a great task in front of her.
The rest of the book is great, Harry trains to become a warrior and she is shockingly good at it. She even suprises herself, she quickly adapts to the life of the hillpeople and really becomes one. Of course she plays a major part in defeating the bad guys. I don't want to spoil it, but if you've ever read any fantasy it's not the ending that is glorious, it's how the characters get there.
As I was writing this review I tried to nail down what I really love about this novel. I think part of it is how much I enjoyed it when I was 12. I had discovered fantasy a few years earlier and it had swept me off my feet. Not only that but I had an unhappy childhood, these book made me happy when the rest of my life really wasn't. I love how independant Harry is, she gets angry askes questions, most of the book is due to her doing what she feels is right, no matter how difficult. I love the Damar culture, it's very middle eastern. Nomadic people living in the desert, there is a great stone city at one point that reminds me alot of Petra. Plus there is a happy ending and everything ties up nicely, that always makes me feel better. Despite how much I love this book there are problems, there are some problems with with the world McKinley has crafted. Some details are left unsaid, there are some descriptions that really lack depth. I think on the whole, looking at the book with adult eyes that "lacks depth" is my key criticism. But considering that this is a young adult novel, and one that was written in 1982 (really before there was YA, this would have been considered a longer-form children's books and also before the YA revolution we're currently in) I think I can gloss over those things. I love this book because it's like a really comforting sweater, it feels perfect and reminds me of all the good times even if it is out of fashion and a bit ragged.

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